Tuesday, May 12, 2020

May 12: Complicate and Sadden, My Plan, God's Plan

Young Thomas Merton's life complicates and saddens . . .

In the autumn of 1929 I went to Oakham.  There was something very pleasant and peaceful about the atmosphere of this little market town, with its school and its old fourteenth-century church with the grey spire, rising in the middle of a wide Midland vale.

Obscure it certainly was.  Oakham's only claim to fame was the fact that it was the county town, and in fact the only real town in the smallest county in England.  And there were not even any main roads or main railway lines running through Rutland, except for the Great North Road which skirted the Lincolnshire border.

In this quiet back-water, under the trees full of rooks, I was to spend three and a half years getting ready for a career.  Three and a half years were a short time:  but when they were over, I was a very different person from the embarrassed and clumsy and more or less well-meaning, but interiorly unhappy fourteen-year-old who came there with a suitcase and a brown felt hat and a trunk and a plain wooden tuck-box.

Meanwhile, before I entered Oakham, and took up my abode in the ratty, gaslit corner of Hodge Wing that was called the "Nursery," things had happened to complicate and sadden my life still further.  

In the Easter vacation of 1929 I had been with Father at Canterbury, where he was working, painting pictures mostly in the big, quiet Cathedral close.  I had spent most of my days walking in the country around Canterbury, and the time went quietly except for the momentous occasion of a big Charlie Chaplin movie which came, late indeed, to Canterbury.  It was The Gold Rush.

When the holidays were over and I went back to Ripley Court, Father crossed over to France.  The last I heard about him was that he was at Rouen.  Then, one day, towards the end of the summer term, when the school cricket eleven went in to Ealing to play Durston House, I was surprised to find myself appointed to go along as scorer.  There was, of course, no likelihood of my ever going as a member of the team, since I was a hopeless cricketer from the start.  On the way into town, on the bus or somewhere, I learned that my father was in Ealing, at Aunt Maud's, and that he was ill.  This was why they had sent me along, I suppose:  during the tea-interval I would have a chance to run in to the house which overlooked the cricket field and see Father.

The bus unloaded us in the lane that led to the field.  In the tiny pavilion, the other scorer and I opened our large, green-ruled books, and wrote down the names of one another's team in the boxes down the side of the big rectangular page.  Then, with our pencils all sharpened we waited, as the first pair went in to bat, striding heavily in their big white pads.

The dim June sun shone down on the field.  Over yonder, where the poplars swayed slightly in the haze, was Aunt Maud's house, and I could see the window in the brick gable where Father probably was.

So the match began.

I could not believe that Father was very ill.  If he were, I supposed that they would have made more fuss about it.  During the tea-interval, I went over, and passed through the green wooden door in the wall to Aunt Maud's garden and entered the house and went upstairs.  Father was in bed.  You could not tell from his appearance how ill he was:  but I managed to gather it from the way he talked and from his actions.  He seemed to move with difficulty and pain, and he did not have much to say.  When I asked him what was the matter, he said nobody seemed to know.

Merton doesn't ever seem to have an easy time as a child.  First, he loses his mother at a very young age.  Then, his itinerant artist father drags him back-and-forth across the Atlantic a few times, crisscrosses Europe.  Merton has had anything but a normal childhood.  Now, his father is gravely ill.  (SPOILER ALERT:  His father is dying.)  Things don't ever seem to go right for Tom.

I can sympathize with Merton.  Situations in my life never turn out the way that I expect.  Certainly, Merton imagined growing up with his parents in France, living a bohemian life, and becoming a famous writer.  That's the life he envisioned for himself as a young person.  Didn't quite turn out that way.  He became a Trappist monk, a bestselling author, and is now being considered for sainthood.  Merton's version of his life pales in comparison to what God had in mind.

And therein lies the rub.  I pretty much think I know what would make me happy and give my life meaning.  Bestselling writer and college professor sound pretty good.  U. S. Poet Laureate sounds even better.  I wouldn't turn down Nobel Laureate, either.  That's the vision I have for my life.  God's vision:  contingent professor and medical office worker at the moment; struggler with bills and family; blogger; church musician; and Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula.  That's what God has put on my plate at this moment.

From day-to-day, I have no idea what the hell I'm doing.  This morning and afternoon, I have been on my computer and phone, talking with someone from my state senator's office, trying to find an answer to a difficult question.  It's one of those things that keeps me awake at night.  And now, I've put it in God's hands.  I can't do anything else with it.

I run into problems when I try to run the show instead of taking my cue from God.  If only He would see things my way, my life would be so much better.  Of course, the issue is that God has a much different view of the universe than I do.  Wider.  More encompassing.  Me?  I panic when the phone rings.

I think I need to be more like my puppy.  She doesn't worry about whether she's going to have food in her dish.  She scratches at the door and knows someone will open it for her.  She goes for walks and is transported into joy by the smells and sounds and sights.  And, when she naps, she sprawls in the middle of the floor, completely unafraid of being stepped on.  She just trusts the universe.

Saint Marty needs to be a mini Australian shepherd.

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